A Month of Sundays

Updike, John

Knopf, 1975

pp. 100 - 107

Updike offers a fascinating set of musings on the miracles of Christ, (p. 100) “this most tender flesh of the New Testament.” (p. 102): “There once thrived, in that pained and systematic land of Germany, a school of Biblical scholarship that sought to reduce all of the Biblical miracles to natural happenings. The Red Sea’s parting was an opportune low tide, and the feeding of the five thousand–the only miracle attested to in each of the four gospels–was Jesus shaming the multitude into bringing out from under its multitude of cloaks a multitude of box lunches hitherto jealously hoarded. This school of exegetical thought observes that our Lord, before healing the blind man of Bethsaida, spit upon his hands–as if saliva is an attested medication for glaucoma. It notes, with a collusive wink, that the saline density of the Dead Sea is so high that one can virtually ‘walk’ upon it–without noting that Peter, attempting the same maneuver, sank. It whispers the magic word ‘psychosomatic’–as if Lazarus merely fancied he was dead, the swine spontaneously decided to go for a swim, and the fig tree withered under hypnosis.” Updike’s preacher goes on to comment on how so many of Jesus’ miracles had to be coaxed out of him, even as he walked (p. 103) “upon a sea of suffering.” Why the selectivity in his healing? And the woman with “the issue of blood.” (P. 104) We are angry “not at her impudence, but angry that this plucking, this seeking out, this risk of humiliation was demanded of her, when omnipotence could have [simply] erased her pain.” And what of all the others? (P. 104): “alleviation is not the purpose of his miracles but demonstration. Their randomness is not their defect, but their essence . . . .” (pp. 106-107) And besides his miracles of healing, he’s got some festive ones (feeding of thousands; water to wine; “and in the miraculous draught of fishes that breaks the net and nearly sinks the boat, festivity acquires a comic note, and prepares us for the comedy of his walking upon the water while Peter sinks, an Abbot and Costello routine at a far stylistic remove from the W.C. Fieldish blasting of the fig tree and the Chaplainesque ballet of the graceful episode wherein Jesus, queried by his tireless straight man Peter about local taxes, sends the fisher of men to catch a fish and finds in that fish’s mouth a coin which is then handed–we can almost see the winsome pursed lips of the cosmic Tramp–to the tax collector.”